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Qualcomm today announced the launch of its new Snapdragon Wear platforms for wearables, the Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+. Based on a 12nm process technology, these new platforms promise to breathe new life into the Android Wear ecosystem. One of the first things users will notice is that, compared to the previous generation of Wear 3100 chips, the 4100+ platform will offer support for a far richer ambient mode, which can now show more colors in this energy-efficient mode all while supporting sleep tracking, live complications and adaptive brightness. Traditionally, in the Android Wear ecosystem, the ambient mode was quite pared down compared to the live mode, but this new platform is going to change that. According to Qualcomm’s data, most smartwatches spent 95% of their time in ambient mode, so that was an obvious feature to improve upon. For its sports mode, the watch falls back to a similar mode, which now features similar capabilities to keep you up to date while you are on a run, for example, and are using various sensors, maps and the GPS. Image Credits: Qualcomm As for the actual technology, the 4100+ platform consisted of a main system Cortex A53-powered system on a chip that promises 85% higher performance compared to the previous generation, all while offering 25% longer battery life. The GPU itself is 2.5 times faster than only a generation ago, which should make for a far smoother user experience. Step counting, heart rate monitoring and more is handled by a tiny always-on co-processor, (it measures 5mmx4mm), while a 4G modem provides high-speed connectivity. Image Credits: Qualcomm One other major advantage, especially for sport-oriented smartwatches, is improved GPS support with significantly lower power requirements. For connected smartwatches, Qualcomm promises a 25% improvement in battery life (and these connected watches have traditionally had pretty dismal battery life). If you really want to conserve battery life, a lot of recent Android Wear watches let you switch to a low-battery mode, which until now meant you only got to see the time. This ‘enhanced watch mode’ is getting a major update on the new 4100+ platform with the addition of step and heart rate support, a battery indicator, alarms and reminders (and yes, you can still see the time and date, too. It’s a watch, after all). Image Credits: Qualcomm It’s worth stressing that Qualcomm will launch two variants of the 4100 platform, the 4100+, which features the main system on a chip, the always-on co-processor and the various connectivity chips, as well as the 4100, which will not feature the always-on co-processor. The first watches to use the new 4100 chips will come from Mobvoi, the makers of the TicWatch line, and imoo, which will launch a kid-centric smartwatch based on the platform. Image Credits: Qualcomm

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The U.S. government is warning that foreign nation-state hackers will “likely attempt” to exploit a new “critical”-rated security vulnerability found in a number of widely used Palo Alto Networks’ network appliances, which if exploited could allow an attacker to break into a company’s network with relative ease. That’s the warning from US Cyber Command, a division of the Dept. of Defense and former sister-agency to the NSA, which said enterprises should patch their vulnerable devices as soon as possible. Please patch all devices affected by CVE-2020-2021 immediately, especially if SAML is in use. Foreign APTs will likely attempt exploit soon. We appreciate @PaloAltoNtwks’ proactive response to this vulnerability. https://t.co/WwJdil5X0F — USCYBERCOM Cybersecurity Alert (@CNMF_CyberAlert) June 29, 2020 The flaw lies in the software that powers several Palo Alto Networks firewalls and enterprise VPN appliances, which let employees access their corporate network from home — access that is crucial during the pandemic — while keeping unauthorized users out. Typically employees must enter their corporate username and password, and often a two-factor code. But the flaw could, under certain conditions, let an attacker take control of one of these devices without needing a password, granting them access to the rest of the network. Palo Alto said that a fix was pushed out in a software update, but enterprises can also switch off SAML — a way of letting a user log in to the network — to mitigate the flaw. But the clock is ticking on enterprises getting those fixes installed. VPN appliances and firewalls are a huge target for hackers as they can provide unfettered access to a corporate network. Last year, researchers found flaws in three corporate VPN appliances — including Palo Alto. Although fixes were quickly rolled out, enterprises that were slow to patch found their networks under attack, prompting Homeland Security’s cyber advisory unit to issue an alert. In some cases, hackers used the vulnerability to spread ransomware across the network. For the time being, Palo Alto says there’s no evidence yet of hackers exploiting this vulnerability. But given the immediate risk to networks, companies should patch as soon as possible. As ransomware gets craftier, companies must start thinking creatively

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Venture capital has a long way to go when it comes to investing in underrepresented founders in a meaningful way. But according to The Venture Collective’s Cat Hernandez, the issue is too complex to solve by just cutting checks and spending time with entrepreneurs. “You have to be maniacally focused on solutions,” Hernandez said. So, Hernandez has teamed up with a number of operators-turned-investors to tackle tech’s diversity problem from a creative angle. The Venture Collective, based in London and New York, launches today to make access to capital more equal. Fair warning: its experimental structure is knotty, as TVC is part investment vehicle and part management company. But it’s a creative strategy in a deserving sector that tech struggles to make progress within. The team is stacked with a variety of experience: Founding partner Nick Shekerdemian is a former YC startup founder who launched a diversity recruitment platform, and his co-founder, Gina Kirch, was one of his investors, as well as a former director at BlackRock. Other partners include former Primary Venture Partners investor Cat Hernandez and Elliot Richmond, who invests out of the United Kingdom and previously worked at Moelis & Company. The team was finalized during COVID-19. TVC’s funding model has two customer bases: startup founders and family offices. For startups, the business will invest a $100,000 check into one company per month, with the flexibility to do more. TVC intends to reserve between $1 to $5 million for follow-on rounds. For family offices, TVC charges an annual fee to serve as intel for what they think are lucrative pre-seed deals in the Valley. If a family office or someone within its network wants to invest, TVC will ultimately deploy an allocated amount of capital. It hopes that total capital commitments will increase over time.  While TVC says the structure model is in stealth, it is reasonable to compare the structures of these family office investments to the structures of special purpose vehicles. SPVs are investment vehicles that exist outside a fund’s capital allotment and are more spur of the moment, versus traditionally syndicated. The biggest difference is that SPV structure is centered around deals, but TVC’s structure is centered around a capital allotment, deployed into multiple deals. They essentially act as middlemen between promising startups and family offices. It’s good news for family offices, as they often take the role of institutional investors, which are decade-long relationships. The problem with lengthy bets is that what was hot in 2010 might not be hot in 2020. TVC’s model lets LPs deploy capital in their interest areas on a year by year basis. So an LP who is newly bullish on remote work (for some wild reason) could get their hands in early deals instead of waiting for the AR/VR fund they invested in years ago to make that move. Putting all these pieces together, TVC gets more funds by: traditional equity raise annual fee to provide information to its network family office checks portfolio exits Because of all of these mechanisms, TVC’s total “fund size” will change depending on the week. It’s a unique example of how first-time fund managers are tackling investing in a volatile landscape. Today TVC launches with an undisclosed amount of equity-based financing. The company declined to share total assets under management. So a big factor in TVC’s success is if it can convince both founders and family offices that its perspective is worth the set up. TVC’s flexibility can be a blessing, but it also can be risky and unreliable in case family offices pull out. Or if there is an extended recession, for example. As a sweetener, the company says that it will donate two-thirds of partner time to helping portfolio companies. But how does this fit into diversity? It all goes back to TVC’s goal to make access to capital more equal. According to the team, pre-seed to Series A is where most companies fail, but the very funds that back pre-seed are also the most strapped for resources (small fund sizes, fixed management fees). Thus, firms have to selectively pick the companies they think are outliers and spend time with those companies on a more regular basis. This disproportionately impacts underrepresented founders, who might have a slower start due to lack of access to resources. TVC thinks its strategy will help grow the number of startups that are venture-backable by heavily supporting them through this time, without competing and driving up valuations for only a few outliers. The company defined underrepresented founders through diversity, geography, age and social background. When asked if they will publicly disclose diversity metrics, TVC said “it wants to be thoughtful about how we hold our investments accountable in the long-term and we are balancing that with a desire to not be prescriptive.” “We believe that part of our job as early investors is to ensure that this intent is top of mind as the business scales. That can come in many forms — tracking/reporting on diversity metrics being one of them. At its core, this isn’t about window dressing,” the firm told TechCrunch. Generally, TVC is focused on helping more people get funding, and pointed toward financial optionality as the “flywheel we’re playing for.” In terms of sourcing, TVC is partnering with tech-focused groups in New York and London and will identify talent at the university and college level. It also said it will build relationships with underrepresented operators “at the most prominent tech companies” and co-invest with diversity-focused founders. TVC also launched a group called “The Collective” that includes diverse founders, operators and investors, who will help as a deal flow channel. How first-time fund managers are de-risking

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If you’re a typically terse communicator who could probably benefit from a little more civility in your everyday communications, a new Carnegie Mellon University research project could be the answer. A team at CMU created an automated way to improve the politeness of written requests and communications, which could have a number of potential applications – including eventually providing the basis for a sort of Grammarly but designed for writing tone instead of adherence to grammar rules. The politeness transfer engine that the CMU research team (including Language Technology Institutes Ph.D student Shrimai Prabhumoye, as well as Master’s students Aman Madaan, Amrith Setlur and Tanmay Parekh) developed is based on similar style transfer mechanisms you may be more familiar with from photography AI projects, where software can apply the style of one photograph to any other. This project used a dataset of half a million emails exchanged by Enron employees, which were made public as part of legal proceedings against the company resulting from its corruption and fraud scandals. Despite the company’s wrongdoing, many of the emails exchanged between employees were – unsurprisingly, if you’ve ever worked in a large corporation – laden with common niceties and politely formed requests and responses. These proved a good basis form which to train a computational linguistics algorithm that could then be used to take either basic or impolite requests, like ‘Show me last month’s reports,’ and turn that into something with a little more basic human kindness and decency, like ‘Could you please send me the reports from last month?’ It might seem like the task is relatively simple – append a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to any phase and you’re mostly there, right? In fact, the researchers say that it actually involved a lot more subtlety, since in fact when we are striving to be polite we do a lot more, like rephrase what’s actually an order to be a request, as in the example above. The automated method that the CMU team developed works only in North American English, as employed in a formal (ie. workplace) setting for now, and there will be lots of work required in order to localize it since regional and linguistic differences regarding what’s considered polite vary greatly. But even in its current form, it could provide a lot of benefit when used for automated customer service chatbots, for instance, or in autosuggesting text in an email client. There’s clearly an interest in this from companies who make significant use of automated text suggestions – like Apple, which provided support for this research alongside the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and NVIDIA.

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A big problem for companies these days is finding ways to connect to various data sources to their data repositories, and Fivetran is a startup with a solution to solve that very problem. No surprise then that even during a pandemic, the company announced today that it has raised $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation. The company didn’t mess around with top flight firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst leading the investment with participation from existing investors CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Today’s money brings the total raised so far to $163 million, according to the company. Martin Cassado from a16z described the company succinctly in a blog post he wrote after its $44 million Series B in September 2019, which his firm also participated in. “Fivetran is a SaaS service that connects to the critical data sources in an organization, pulls and processes all the data, and then dumps it into a warehouse (e.g., Snowflake, BigQuery or RedShift) for SQL access and further transformations, if needed. If data is the new oil, then Fivetran is the pipes that get it from the source to the refinery,” he wrote. Writing in a blog post today announcing the new funding, CEO George Fraser added that in spite of current conditions, the company has continued to add customers. “Despite recent economic uncertainty, Fivetran has continued to grow rapidly as customers see the opportunity to reduce their total cost of ownership by adopting our product in place of highly customized, in-house ETL pipelines that require constant maintenance,” he wrote. In fact, the company reports 75% customer growth over the prior 12 months. It now has over 1100 customers, which is a pretty good benchmark for a Series C company. Customers include Databricks, DocuSign, Forever 21, Square, Udacity and Urban Outfitters, crossing a variety of verticals. Fivetran hopes to continue to build new data connectors as it expands the reach of its product and to push into new markets, even in the midst of today’s economic climate. With $100 million in the bank, it should have enough runway to ride this out, while expanding where it makes sense. Fivetran hauls in $44M Series B as data pipeline business booms

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Two factors defined OnePlus’s seemingly out-of-nowhere growth in the middle of the last decade: solid specs and a budget price tag. But markets change, and companies must adapt to survive. As someone who’s followed the Chinese smartphone maker since close to the beginning, I can confidently say that it hasn’t wavered from that first part. The second bit, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. OnePlus has experienced a bit of a price creep as it’s continued to add features to set itself apart from the competition. In the early days, the smartphone maker was content to wait a generation or two before embracing new tech, for the sake of keeping costs down. But increasingly, it’s come to be pride itself in being among the first first to things like in-screen fingerprint readers and 5G. Today, however, it’s announcing a bit of a return to its roots with the Nord. The upcoming phone has been the subject of all manner of rumors under a variety of different names in recent months, but OnePlus just confirmed its name and arrival by way of an extended behind-the-scenes documentary on Instagram. Details are pretty slim at the moment, though the company confirmed that it will be priced at under $500. Cofounder Carl Pei — who discussed the company’s place in the budget market last year at Disrupt last year — noted in the video, “There’s a huge change every two years. Anything can happen. Thousand dollar phones are decreasing in sales.” It’s a pretty well-established phenomenon over the last few years that has led to, among other things, companies like Samsung, Apple and Google to embrace lower-cost device amid stagnant sales figures. OnePlus’s devices have still remained relatively affordable, compared to the competition, but the addition of the Nord will finds its getting back to where it started from with a line aimed at a wider range of consumers and different markets. More info soon, no doubt.

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The summer before Alamin Uddin was set to begin medical school, he worked in a small doctor’s office in the Bronx as a receptionist. There, dealing with the workflow of managing paper and electronic health records, organizing and scheduling patient’s visits and follow ups, he realized that one of the largest obstacles to quality care for many patients remains the lack of integration of medical records. In the years since the first electronic medical records laws were passed, the promise of an integrated single source of patient information is still largely illusory. NexHealth co-founders Alamin Uddin and Waleed Asif. Image courtesy: NexHealth That’s why Uddin and Waleed Asif, both graduates of City College, founded NexHealth. And why investors were willing to give the pair $12 million to build out their API providing a gateway between patient data in health records from small and medium-sized independent physicians and clinics and developers. For most small clinics and independent practices, the benefits of opening up EHRs to developers isn’t entirely clear, so NexHealth is proving the use case for them with an initial suite of tools like online scheduling, automated patient communications and payments, the company said. So far, the company has developed APIs to support around 50 electronic health record integrations, and is managing the caseload for around 10.4 million patients. Companies like Quip and Doctorlogic are already using the company’s API to integrate with those health records.  “The need is that developers don’t have the tools they need to innovate in SMB healthcare,” Uddin wrote in an email. “We’re building those tools to help developers rapidly go to market in the SMB healthcare space.” Backing the company is a collection of super angels including James Beshara of Tilt and Airbnb fame; Joshua Hannah, from Betfair; Rahul Vohra, the founder of Superhuman; Harry Stebbings, from 20minuteVC; AngelList’s Naval Ravikant; Scott Belsky from Adobe and Behance; and Christoph Janz of Point Nine Capital. The independent healthcare market represents 70 percent of a consumer’s interaction with healthcare and no one is servicing those independent offices, according to Uddin. These are places like dentists, chiropractors, small minute clinics and urgent care facilities or independent health care practitioners. “We want to enable innovation in the healthcare system,” Uddin said, and he thinks these small businesses are the best place to start.  

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Facebook announced this morning that stories with original reporting will get a boost in the News Feed, while publications that don’t clearly credit their editorial staff will be demoted. The change comes as a number of high-profile companies have said that they will pull their advertising from Facebook as part of the #StopHateforProfit campaign, organized by civil rights groups as a a way to pressure the social network to take stronger steps against hate speech and misinformation. On Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will start labeling — but not removing — “newsworthy” content from politicians and other public figures that violates its content standards. (He also said that content threatening violence or suppressing voter participation will be removed even if it’s posted by a public figure.) Today’s blog post from VP of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown and Product Manager Jon Levin doesn’t mention the ad boycott, and it suggests that these changes were developed in consultation with news publishers and academics. But these certainly sound like concrete steps the company can point to as part of its efforts against misinformation. Unilever and Verizon are the latest companies to pull their advertising from Facebook What gets prioritized in the News Feed has long been a thorny issue for publishers, particularly after a major change in 2016 that prioritized content from friends over content from publishers. “Most of the news stories people see in News Feed are from sources they or their friends follow, and that won’t change,” Brown and Levin wrote. “When multiple stories are shared by publishers and are available in a person’s News Feed, we will boost the more original one which will help it get more distribution.” As for “transparent authorship,” Facebook will be looking for article bylines, or for a staff page on the publisher’s website. As Brown and Levin noted, “We’ve found that publishers who do not include this information often lack credibility to readers and produce content with clickbait or ad farms, all content people tell us they don’t want to see on Facebook.” While these same like smart, straightforward changes (Google announced similar steps last fall), Brown and Levin also warned publishers not to expect “significant changes” in their Facebook traffic, since there are a “variety of signals” that go into how content gets ranked in the News Feed. Also worth noting: These changes only apply to news content. As advertisers revolt, Facebook commits to flagging ‘newsworthy’ political speech that violates policy

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The good ship Extra Crunch Live sails along today, bringing two noted venture capitalists aboard to discuss the world’s investing patterns, their own deals and much more. Extra Crunch members can join the conversation with Hans Tung and Jeff Richards from GGV Capital at 3:30 p.m. EDT/12:30 p.m. PDT/7:30 p.m. GMT. We’ll collect audience questions as we go, so buy an Extra Crunch trial now so you can participate. Of course, TechCrunch has a list of its own queries — GGV Capital invests globally, which means it has eyes and ears in a number of different markets. We’ll dig into how different markets are faring: Is China’s VC scene as slow as it seems? Is Europe bouncing back as we’ve been hearing? And what’s the current temperature here in the United States for Series A through C rounds? With the stock market back to form, exits are hot again, which gives us a new set of topics to explore, including how GGV views M&A appetite today from a price perspective, and whether any of their later-stage companies are looking more closely at the IPO market. TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch Live series has featured guests like investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, BLCK VC’s Sydney Sykes and Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel, with more to come. There are other pressing matters: The COVID-19 pandemic is re-accelerating domestically even as it abates abroad. And GGV spoke out against racism during the early days of protests after the killing of George Floyd, so we’ll ask about the venture capital industry and if its efforts to diversify itself will make more material progress this time. Extra Crunch subscribers, hit the jump and add the event to your calendar. Zoom links and the rest of the goodies are down there as well. (We’ll also stream live on YouTube). If you aren’t an Extra Crunch subscriber, you can get a cheap trial here. All set? Great. We’ll see you in a few hours. Details

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) is upping its space industry game with a dedicated business unit called Aerospace and Satellite Solutions (as first reported by the WSJ) that’s focused on space projects, including from customers like NASA, the U.S. military, and private space players including Lockheed Martin and others. AWS has already served satellite and space industry customers, including with its AWS Ground Station offering, which provides satellite communication and data processing as a service, helping customers bypass the need to set up their own dedicated ground stations when establishing their satellite networks and constellations. The AWS segment will be led by retired Air Force Major General Glint Crosier, who was involved in the set up of the U.S. Space Force arm of the U.S. military. The choice of leadership is a good indicator of what the primary purpose of this unit will be: landing and serving large, lucrative customers mostly form the defense industry. In a high-profile decision last year, AWS lost out on contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon with an estimated value of up to $10 billion, with Microsoft’s Azure taking the win. Amazon has formally challenged the decision, and the proceedings resulting from that challenge are ongoing. But the contract loss was likely a wake-up call at AWS that it would need to do more in order to bolster its pipeline for dedicated defense agency contracts. Cloud computing services for satellite and in-space assets is a potentially massive business over the next few years for the defense industry, particularly in the U.S., where part of the strategy of the Space Force and Department of Defense is shifting away from a reliance on large, aging geostationary satellites, and towards more versatile, affordable and redundant networks of small satellites that can be launched frequently and in a responsive manner. A primary focus on defense customers doesn’t mean startups and smaller new space ventures won’t benefit; in fact, they should be just as able to take advantage of the cost benefits that will accrue from Amazon dedicated more resources to serving this segment as bigger players. In fact, AWS Ground Station already serves smaller startups including Capella Space, which announced today that it would be using AWS for its satellite command and control, as well as for providing data from its imaging satellites to its customers much faster and cheaper than is usually possible for satellite providers. This new focus could help further defray hard costs that any satellite startup must incur like ground station setup – a much-needed relief as the COVID-19 situation continues to impact startups’ ability to raise, especially in frontier tech areas like space.

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Over the years, a number of support organizations geared toward fostering diversity and inclusion in tech have emerged. Black Innovation Alliance, which launches today, aims to serve as a unifying force for the many organizations focused on supporting Black innovators. Meanwhile, The Alliance’s existence signals to white folks that there are other organizations focused on advancing Black people beyond the NAACP, United Negro College Fund, Color of Change and others. “There’s so much that we owe to the organizations like the NAACP and UNCF and others,” Aniyia Williams, co-creator of BIA and founder of Black & Brown Founders told TechCrunch. “They’re wonderful, but are they going to get us to the next stage of where this movement has to go? I have people who work in these organizations that I know who also tell me the answer is no. […] It’s like white people want to grab the closest Black thing to them and say, ‘here, you fix the problem.’ But can we be just a little bit more intentional than that?” To name a few more innovation-oriented organizations, there’s Black & Brown Founders, Founders of Color, Black Female Founders, HBCU.vc and many more. Through BIA, organizations like those mentioned will work together to create a more structured system around supporting Black entrepreneurs, tech startup founders and creative technologists. Over the next ten years, BIA hopes to have at least 500 organizations on board. More specifically, BIA is looking at how these disparate organizations can “work together and leverage the innovation economy to get us to this place of Black prosperity — kind of being the promised land there — and that being a collective show of strength and love and trust, above all else,” Williams said. Much of this fragmentation is due to the fact that “everybody’s starving,” Williams said. “So we’re all in survival mode. We’re all doing whatever it takes to keep our lights on and make sure that we have a bed to sleep in and food on the table for that day. And that is not always going to be aligned with what someone else is doing when you want to show up and partner with someone. But you also have to keep moving or you’re going to die.” Many of these organizations try to do it on a shoestring budget, while some leaders at these organizations don’t pay themselves in order to help people within their community get ahead, Williams said. “It shouldn’t have to be that sacrificial, especially when we have this money in the industry that we throw around for people to make fucking juicers and scooters,” Williams said. “We are trying to build the actual future that people want to live in — not just make another cute, shiny thing that a VC thought was cool.” Still, BIA is an invitation to VCs and those in Silicon Valley that are often on the other side of the table, Williams said. Now, however, BIA has built its own table. “We’ve spent the last however long clamoring to get our seat at the table,” Williams said. “And BIA is being basically like, fuck it, we’ve just built this table and you can have a seat at it, if you step correct. We would love to have you co-create this with us but you’re not going to be running the show because this is not your show to run.” At this new table, BIA plans to build and streamline pathways for entrepreneurs to get from idea to revenue to exit, if that’s what they want, and putting that infrastructure in place, Williams said. She added, “And not having that be something that comes from another kind of ivory tower, you know, basically white institutions that often times very much miss the mark on how to deliver exactly what this ecosystem needs and not empowering the people who are actually from the community to be serving them.” Within the first six to 12 months, BIA hopes to raise $10 million from supporters and $1 billion over the next ten years. This money will go toward building out the organization’s operational capacity and infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure, BIA co-creator and Founders of Color CEO Kelly Burton likes to use the federal government’s creation of the highway system in the 1930s as a metaphor for what BIA is trying to do. “Right before then, states and local governments were essentially all doing their own thing,” Burton said. “It was just a series of paved-over cow paths. And so what we have today in terms of the ecosystem that exists to support Black and brown founders is a bunch of like paved over cow paths.” Currently, the system for supporting Black and brown founders is hyper inefficient, Burton said. In order to close the wealth gap and achieve economic prosperity in Black and brown communities, “we have to convert these paved over cow paths to something akin to a superhighway.” That means increased connectivity across all of these disparate organizations that enable a more effective deployment of education, programming, resources and capital. “Right now, we’re in a digital world working on an analog system,” Burton said. It’s still early days for the organization, which just started meeting a few months ago. That means there’s still a lot of work to be done and clarity to be achieved around how BIA accomplishes its goals. But all decision-making happens through a democratic process, in which all the organizations have equal say. “People come to these meetings because they feel isolated, they feel marginalized and for one hour every other week, they get to be in a space with other people who fundamentally get them,” Burton said. “So a lot of what we’re trying to do is build community in this space and build these connections. Our goal is to make history — we’re very explicit and matter of fact about it. Nothing like this has ever been done in this space, as far as we know, in terms of this generation. We feel that it’s an opportunity to figure out how you build and sustain collective movement around this innovation work. We find this to be a demonstration of collective Black love. We are going to reimagine what Black community looks like within this innovation space, which has been very, very less than hospitable to Black and brown folks.” Generally speaking, Williams believes people in Silicon Valley really do want to be on the right side of doings things but she is trying “to reconcile that gulf between who they think they are and who they actually are,” she said. “That’s what we’re feeling a lot of tension about right now.” Through BIA, folks who need their hands held can get closer to their ideals of who they think they are, Williams said. BIA has the patience to work through people on these topics of race, equity and inclusion, as long as they’re willing to do the work, she said. Other than funding, BIA is looking for people with expertise in cybersecurity to help protect digital assets, people to help create tools to track member contributions and projects, as well as lawyers and other specialists who can help the Alliance. “So, you know, this is the olive branch,” Williams said.

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It’s been a busy last 24 hours or so for on-demand delivery company Postmates. According to reporting, the company is reviving its IPO plans, possibly selling to Uber, or perhaps looking to go public with the help of a special purpose acquisition vehicle, also known as a SPAC. For Postmates, a company caught somewhere between DoorDash’s cash-fueled rise and Uber’s ability to lose hundreds of millions on its Uber Eats delivery service every quarter, multiples options are likely welcome. Postmates first filed to go public in early 2019, but its IPO failed to materialize. The company was also reported to be pursuing a sale in 2019 after it had filed to go public. An M&A exit also failed to appear. The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription. But 2020 is very different from 2019. With GrubHub’s bidding war behind us, Uber appears hungry for more volume, and the IPO market is surprisingly hot given the global pandemic. Postmates may have a number of viable options in front of it, instead of a continued grind as a private company. The IPO market So what to do? Despite some blips, if Postmates has managed anything like revenue growth acceleration because people have been staying home and ordering more food and other goods, the company’s IPO story could prove attractive. And if so, the firm could perhaps best what a cash-burning company can afford to part with in an M&A transaction by going public. Let’s check the tape. It’s a commonly known fact that the public markets have favored technology companies this year, especially software companies. For many venture-backed companies, this is great news. For Postmates, it’s a slightly different equation, as its margins won’t match those of software companies, nor will its revenue recur in a similar fashion. But, there are IPOs from this year that we can point to featuring companies that also do not feature strong margins or recurring revenue that did great. So, there is an IPO path for venture-backed startups and unicorns to go public even if they are not software entities. Vroom

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WeWork, the once $47 billion company that was on the brink of a public offering, has been divesting a great number of its assets as it looks to right the course since releasing its S-1, which exposed its expanding costs, among other things, and sent its valuation plummeting. Today, WeWork is announcing the sale of 100 percent of the equity in Flatiron School to Carrick Capital Partners, an investment firm focused on software-enabled businesses. Other terms of the deal, such as acquisition price, were not disclosed. WeWork acquired Flatiron School, a coding academy that offers ‘intensive and expensive’ technical courses, according to founder and CEO Adam Enbar, in 2017. New York-based Flatiron School launched in 2012 and raised more than $14 million from investors like Matrix Partners, CRV, BoxGroup and Thrive Capital before being acquired. One of the strategic benefits of the merger with WeWork was Flatiron School’s access to hundreds of thousands of square feet of real estate space, which is one of the great challenges for startups with physical services. While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily allayed the need for a physical presence, the deal does allow Flatiron School to continue its in-person courses at WeWork locations once it makes sense to return to offices. The divesture of the educational asset will allow WeWork to better focus on its core business of co-working. “Over the past number of months, we’ve actually been really grateful to have received a lot of inbound interest in Flatiron School,” said Enbar. “After enough conversations between myself and the WeWork leadership team and with their continued focus on their own core business and our evolution as a school — especially as we increasingly grow, especially recently online — with all of that in mind, we thought it would make sense to kind of pursue conversations about finding a new home for Flatiron School.” Flatiron offers courses in software engineering, data science, cyber security and design, operating 11 physical campuses as well as online courses. The company grew its physical footprint from one campus in 2018. The company has 400 employees and all will stay on through the transition to Carrick Capital Partners. Flatiron School declined to share the diversity and inclusion numbers of its workforce because the company is compiling them and plans to report them both internally and externally in the coming weeks. Enbar also said that the company has seen 140 percent growth in graduates since 2018. Since the beginning of 2019, Flatiron School has had more than 1,100 unique employers hire from their pool of graduates, with 93 percent of graduates in 2019 accepting a job offer. Flatiron School will operate as an independent business under Carrick Capital ownership. Enbar said that, among the inbound interest in Flatiron School, Carrick Capital stood out because the firm understood Flatiron’s mission-driven culture of educating and empowering students to go out and build the career they desire. “Most people, when we got on the phone, asked about financials and customer acquisition costs,” said Enbar. “All of that is important. But the first thing Carrick Capital asked about was our student outcomes. The first person they wanted to talk to when doing due diligence was our Head of Career Services. So that went a long way in terms of building a close relationship with them.”

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It hasn’t taken long for B Capital to amass a pretty hefty third fund. Just five years after the venture firm was launched by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Raj Ganguly, a veteran of private-equity firm Bain Capital, the firm is taking the wraps off a third fund that has amassed $822 million in capital commitments. That’s almost precisely twice what the now 70-person, growth-stage outfit raised for its second, $410 million fund, which was itself closer in size to B Capital’s debut fund. (That closed with $360 million in capital commitments in 2016.) All three funds count as an anchor investor the management consulting giant Boston Consulting Group, where Ganguly was an advisor for several years and with which the firm continues to work closely. As Ganguly has explained the relationship to us previously, through their affiliation, B Capital gets an inside track into what BCG’s corporate clients are missing so it can invest in startups accordingly. B Capital companies also gain access to a dedicated BCG partner who opens up his or her resources and network, which can ostensibly result in big partnerships and other deals. All three funds count the firm’s partners — including Saverin — as outsize investors. But while they were the biggest investors in their first two funds, that’s no longer the case, says Ganguly, who says outside limited partners now own slightly more of the new fund, including two sovereign wealth funds, along with a U.S. nonprofit foundation, an untold number of pension funds, and family offices. (If helpful to know, Asia makes up a substantial part of B Capital’s limited partner base, but it has backers in Europe, as well as the U.S., which is home to the majority of its investors.) The investors are a reflection of the firm’s global approach, Ganguly said yesterday, noting that the firm has, and continues, to see promising opportunities outside of Silicon Valley. Among its biggest bets to date are Icertis, an 11-year-old, Seattle-based contract life cycle management software company, and Ninja Van, a now six-year-old, Singapore-based company that specializes in next-day deliveries for e-commerce companies. Still, the firm, which has offices in Manahattan Beach, Calif.; San. Francisco, New York and Singapore, sees plenty of promise in the Bay Area, especially when it comes to companies whose cross-border strategies it can help develop. For example, B Capital has backed Evidation Health, an eight-year-old, San Mateo, Calif. company that provides clinical validation of health apps and that is expanding into Asia with the help of B Capital. B Capital, which has two partners in San Francisco, also sees a growing number of interesting startups with a small presence in the Bay Area but a large focus elsewhere. Ganguly points to a CRM company that B Capital recently funded (but can’t yet name publicly). Its executives are based based primarily in Mexico and Brazil and the company isn’t selling into U.S. markets. As for why they have a business development person and a sprinkling of other employees in Silicon Valley, it mostly “helps them get a better valuation,” observes Ganguly. In the meantime, other trends B Capital are tracking center around increasingly distributed teams, and overlooked small- and mid-sized businesses in India specifically that have proven durable over time but could be run far more efficiently given the right tools. Toward that end, among the firm’s newest bets is Synack, a Redwood City, Ca-based crowdsourced cybersecurity testing platform that protects critical assets (which is especially helpful in a world with decentralized workplaces); and Khatabook, a Bangalore-based startup that digitizes local businesses through bookkeeping and online payments. More broadly, B Capital invests in enterprise tech, fintech, healthcare tech, consumer enablement technology, and transportation and logistics. The firm typically invests between $10 and $60 million in companies at Series B, C and D stages, and Ganguly says that with its newest fund, it has the flexibility to write a check as small as $100,000 and to invest upwards of $100 million in a company.

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Hunters, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup that helps enterprises defend themselves from intruders and analyze attacks, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round from Microsoft’s M12 and U.S. Venture Partners. Seed investors YL Ventures and Blumberg Captial also participated in this round, as well as new investor Okta Ventures, the venture arm of identity provider Okta. With this, Hunters has now raised a total of $20.4 million. The company’s SaaS platform basically automates the threat-hunting processes, which has traditionally been a manual process. The general idea here is to take as much data from an enterprise’s various networking and security tools to detect stealth attacks. “Hunters is basically this layer, a cognitive layer or connective tissue that you put on top of your telemetry stack,” Hunters co-founder and CEO Uri May told me. “So you have your [endpoint detection and response], your firewalls, cloud, production environment sensors — and all of those are shooting telemetry and detections all over the organization, generating huge amounts of data. And, basically, our place in the world depends on our ability to generate that delta. So without being able to find things that you can’t see with a single point solution or without really expediting response procedures and workflows by correlating things in a nontrivial way, we don’t have any excuse to exist. But we got pretty good at those — at showing that delta — and we onboarded customers — nice logos — and that was a very strong validation.” Image Credits: Hunters Hunters’ first customer was actually data management service Snowflake, which functioned as the company’s design partner. In addition to being a customer, Snowflake now also features Hunters in its partner marketplace, as does security service CrowdStrike. May also noted that Crowdstrike is a good example for the kind of customer Hunters is going after. “Not necessarily Global 2000 or Fortune 500. It’s really high-end mid-market organizations, not necessarily tens of thousand employees, but billions of dollars in revenues, a lot of value at risk, born to the cloud, super mature tech stack, not necessarily a big security operation center, but definitely CISO and a team of security engineers and analysts, and they’re looking for the solution, that on-top solution that can make sense of a lot of the data and give them the confidence and also give them results in terms of cybersecurity, posture and their detection and response capabilities.” Microsoft already has a large security development center in Israel and so it’s no surprise that Hunters appeared on the company’s radar. Hunters also spent some time proactively looking at the Microsoft ecosystem, May told me, but the company’s VCs also made some introductions. All of this culminated in a number of meetings at the Tel Aviv CyberTech conference in January and the RSA Conference in San Francisco in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down travel. Hunters says it will use the new funding to build out its go-to-market capabilities in the U.S. and expand its R&D team in Israel. As for the product itself, the company will look to broaden its product integration and machine learning capabilities to help it generate better attack stories. May also noted that it plans to give its users capabilities to customize the system for their needs by allowing them to develop their own signals and detections to augment the company’s default tools. This, May argued, will allow the company to go after higher-end enterprise customers that already have threat-hunting teams but that are looking to automate more of the process. With that, it will also look to partner with other security firms to leverage its system to provide better services to their customers as well. Israel’s maturing cybersecurity startup ecosystem

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API management platform Kong today announced that it is donating its open-source Kuma control plane technology to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Since Kong built Kuma on top of the Envoy service mesh — and Envoy is part of the CNCF’s stable of open-source projects — donating it to this specific foundation was likely an obvious move. The company first open-sourced Kuma in September 2019. In addition to donating it to the CNCF, the company also today launched version 0.6 of the codebase, which introduces a new hybrid mode that enables Kuma-based service meshes to support applications that run on complex heterogeneous environments, including VMs, Kubernetes clusters and multiple data centers. Image Credits: Kong Kong co-founder and CTO Marco Palladino says that the goal was always to donate Kuma to the CNCF. “The industry needs and deserves to have a cloud native, Envoy-based control plane that is open and not governed by a single commercial entity,” he writes in today’s announcement. “From a technology standpoint, it makes no sense for individual companies to create their own control plane but rather build their own unique applications on proven technologies like Envoy and Kuma. We welcome the broader community to join Kuma on Slack and on our bi-weekly community calls to contribute to the project and continue the incredible momentum we have achieved so far.” Kuma will become a CNCF Sandbox project. The sandbox is the first stage that projects go through to become full graduated CNCF projects. Currently, the foundation is home to 31 sandbox projects, and Kong argues that Kuma is now production-ready and at the right stage where it can profit from the overall CNCF ecosystem. “It’s truly remarkable to see the ecosystem around Envoy continue to develop, and as a vendor-neutral organization, CNCF is the ideal home for Kuma,” said Matt Klein, the creator of the Envoy proxy. “Now developers have access to the service mesh data plane they love with Envoy as well as a CNCF-hosted Envoy-based control plane with Kuma, offering a powerful combination to make it easier to create and manage cloud native applications.”

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Menten AI has an impressive founding team and a pitch that combines some of the hottest trends in tech to pursue one of the biggest problems in healthcare — new drug discovery. The company is also $4 million richer with a seed investment from firms including Uncork Capital and Khosla Ventures to build out its business. Menten AI’s pitch to investors was the combination of quantum computing and machine learning to discover new drugs that sit between small molecules and large biologics, according to the company’s co-founder Hans Melo. A graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator, which also participated in the round, Menten AI looks to design proteins from scratch. It’s a heavier lift than some might expect, because, as Melo said in an interview, it takes a lot of work to make an actual drug. Menten AI is working with peptides, which are strings of amino acid chains similar to proteins that have the potential to slow aging, reduce inflammation, and get rid of pathogens in the body. “As a drug modality [peptides] are quite new,” says Melo. “Until recently it was really hard to design them computationally and people tried to focus on genetically modifying them.” Peptides have the benefit of getting through membranes and into cells where they can combine with targets that are too large for small molecules, according to Melo. Most drug targets are not addressable with either small molecules or biologics, according to Melo, which means there’s a huge untapped potential market for peptide therapies. Menten AI is already working on a COVID-19 therapeutic, although the company’s young chief executive declined to disclose too many details about it. Another area of interest is in neurological disorders, where the founding team members have some expertise. Image of peptide molecules. Image Courtesy: D-Wave While Menten AI’s targets are interesting, the approach that the company is taking, using quantum computing to potentially drive down the cost and accelerate the time to market is equally compelling for investors. It’s also unproven. Right now, there isn’t a quantum advantage to using the novel computing technology versus traditional computing. Something that Melo freely admits. “We’re not claiming a quantum advantage, but we’re not claiming a quantum disadvantage,” is the way the young entrepreneur puts it. “We have come up with a different way of solving the problem that may scale better. We haven’t proven an advantage.” Still, the company is an early indicator of the kinds of services quantum computing could offer, and it’s with that in mind that Menten AI partnered with some of the leading independent quantum computing companies, D-Wave and Rigetti Computing to work on applications of their technology. The emphasis on quantum computing also differentiates it from larger publicly traded competitors like Schrödinger and Codexis. So does the pedigree of its founding team, according to Uncork Capital investor, Jeff Clavier. “It’s really the unique team that they formed,” Clavier said of his decision to invest in the early stage company. “There’s Hans… the CEO who is more on the quantum side; there’s Tamas [Gorbe] on the bio side and there’s Vikram [Mulligan] who developed the research. It’s kind of a unique fantastic team that came together to work on the opportunity.” Clavier has also acknowledged the possibility that it might not work. “Can they really produce anything interesting at the end?” he asked. “It’s still an early stage company and we may fall flat on our face or they may come up with really new ways to make new peptides.” It’s probably not a bad idea to take a bet on Melo who worked with Mulligan, a researcher from the Flatiron Institute focused on computational biology, to produce some of the early research into the creation of new peptides using D-Wave’s quantum computing. Novel peptide structures created using D-Wave’s quantum computers. Image Courtesy: D-Wave While Melo and Mulligan were the initial researchers working on the technology that would become Menten AI, Gorbe was added to the founding team to get the company some exposure into the world of chemistry and enzymatic applications for its new virtual protein manufacturing technology. The gamble paid off in the form of pilot projects (also undisclosed) that focus on the development of enzymes for agricultural applications and pharmaceuticals. “At the end of the day what they’re doing is they’re using advanced computing to figure out what is the optimal placement of those clinical compounds in a way that is less based on those sensitive tests and more bound on those theories,” said Clavier. 

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Welcome back to the second half of our two-part Boston investor survey. Catching you up, TechCrunch reached out to a host of Boston-area venture capitalists to get their take on the current state of their market, and what they think might be coming up in the future. More VCs than we initially anticipated got back to us, so we broke the survey into two pieces so that there was enough room to include everyone. Today, in contrast, we’re looking a little further ahead: Are they seeing green shoots? When is a recovery likely to begin? What’s making them feel hopeful in this tenuous era? Here’s who took part: Lily Lyman, Underscore VC Rudina Seseri, Glasswing Ventures Jamie Goldstein, Pillar VC The Victress Capital team (Lori Cashman, Suzanne Norris, Kate Castle, Madeline Keulen, Molly Sellers) Rob Go, NextView Ventures Bill Geary, Flare Capital Michael Greeley, Flare Capital Jeff Bussgang, Flybridge Ventures Neeraj Agrawal, Battery Ventures Boston VC’s vision of tomorrow Recovery is going to be slow, but most importantly, the comeback is not going to look like one, sole aha moment for any startup or entrepreneur. After poring through dozens of responses, we distilled that Boston-focused VCs think that recovery will favor Boston-area companies to some degree, as the areas they are working on, or the problems that they are working to solve, will still matter after COVID-19. On the slowness of recovery, NextView’s Rob Go provided TechCrunch with the most vivid prognostication, saying that “while it’s difficult to predict” when the post-COVID recovery will begin, he anticipates “a swoosh-shaped recovery is more likely” than anything V-shaped. “The recovery is likely to be painfully slow,” the VC added. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that green shoots and fruitful deals are thinner on the ground in Boston today than its startup community probably would have hoped. Momentum through dollars or deals will lead to more sustained recovery. Flare Capital’s Michael Greeley said that it is “still too early” to see green shoots, while other VCs noted that, on a sector-by-sector basis, there are some positive signs that give hope. Glasswing is an AI-focused fund, making the following comment from its Rudina Seseri interesting, if niche. On the question of green shoots, Seseri said that her firm has “been surprised by the number of companies that are leveraging AI to drive automation, cost savings, optimization and higher performance.” The result of that surprise has been that “over the last five months these companies have beaten their pre-COVID budgets and forecasts for growth.” The other side of that coin is startup areas that touch on travel or food. It’s hard to find recovery there, for obvious reasons. The Victress Capital team put the dynamic well: “We’ve also been encouraged by the increased pace in innovation that we’ve seen across sectors where innovation has been slow in the past. From edtech to telehealth to food and beverage and more, we are seeing nimble entrepreneurs pivot or change their businesses to respond to the needs of today.” Our broadest takeaway is that VC firms have not fully written off any sectors given today’s turbulence. The future, largely according to Boston-focused VCs, is startups that are important after the world opens again and focus on the next generation of businesses. It means that investments might look a bit like a risky game of hopscotch. They’re all trying to land on the deal that accounts for the next generation of businesses. With that, let’s get into full questions and answers. Lily Lyman, Underscore VC When do you expect a startup recovery to begin? “Recovery” is hard to speak to. We’ve been evaluating different phases of behavior and how that will affect the economy and the startup ecosystem. We have been thinking in terms of (1) lockdown opening up (summer 2020); (2) period of remaining social distancing behavior, likely with intermittent periods of lockdowns (into spring 2021); and (3) new normal (spring/summer 2021). But this changes and we are constantly reassessing it. For startups, we remain believers that great companies with great leadership can not only survive but find ways to thrive in this new environment. Are you seeing green shoots regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum that you didn’t expect a few weeks ago? Again, it varies by industry. We have seen a surge in demand for players in the cloud infrastructure space such as CloudZero or for remote collaboration software (an investment not yet announced). Tell us about the most interesting, Boston-based company you’ve invested in recently. We are really excited about Popcart and how they are positioned as the world rapidly migrates to e-commerce. The founding team is a pair of engineer leaders from Endeca. Popcart offers consumers price and availability transparency across retail platforms (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.). The cross-platform capabilities are particularly unique. When COVID-19 hit, the team quickly created the Supply Finder to help consumers find goods that are in short supply and ensure they are protected against price gouging. What is a moment that has given you hope in the past 30 days? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two. I’m inspired by the great leadership I’ve seen our founders display. They’ve made hard decisions with imperfect information and managed a difficult time with both empathy and conviction. I’m also appreciating the humanizing reality that working from home and operating in uncertainty brings that unites people. My hope is that pieces of this uniting and empathy will persist.

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There’s a lot of complexity around managing data lakes in the cloud that often requires expensive engineering expertise. Upsolver, an early stage startup, wants to simplify all of that, so that a database administrator could handle it. Today the startup announced a $13 million Series A. Vertex Ventures US was lead investor with participation from Wing Venture Capital and Jerusalem Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $17 million, according to the company. Co-founder and CEO Ori Rafael says that as companies move data to the cloud and store it in data lakes, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage. The goal of Upsolver is to abstract away a lot of those management tasks and allow users to query the data using SQL, making it a lot more accessible. “The main criticism of data lakes over the years is they become data swamps. It’s very easy to store data there very cheaply, but making it [easy to query] and valuable is hard. For that you need a lot of engineering, which turns the lake into a swamp. So we take the data that you put into a lake and make it easier to query, and we take the biggest disadvantage of using a lake, which is the complexity of doing that process, and we make that process easy,” Rafael explained. Investor Sik Rhee, who is general partner and co-founder at Vertex Ventures US sees a company that’s creating a cloud-native standard for data lake computing. “Upsolver succeeded in abstracting away the engineering complexity of data pipeline management so that enterprise customers can quickly solve their modern data challenges in real time and at any scale without having to build another silo of expertise within the organization,” he said in a statement. The company currently has 22 employees spread out between San Francisco, New York and Israel. Rafael says they hope to expand to 50 employees by the end of next year including adding new engineers for their R&D center in Israel and building sales and customer success teams in the U.S. Rafael says he and his co-founder sat down early on and wrote down the company’s core values and they see a responsibility of running a diverse company as part of that, as they search for these new hires. Certainly the pandemic has shown them that they can hire from anywhere and that can help contribute to a more diverse workforce as they grow. He said running the company and raising money has been stressful during these times, but the company has continued to grow through all of this, adding new customers while staying relatively lean and Rafael says that the investors certainly recognized that. “We had high revenue compared to the low number of employees with [sales] acceleration during COVID — that was our big trio,” he said.

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A growing number of internet service providers in India have started to block their subscribers from accessing TikTok a day after New Delhi banned the popular short-video app and 58 other services in the world’s second largest internet market over security and privacy concerns. Many users on Airtel, Vodafone and other service providers reported Tuesday afternoon (local time) that TikTok app on their phone was no longer accessible. Opening TikTok app, users said, showed they were no longer connected to the internet. For many others, opening TikTok app promoted an error message that said the popular app was complying with the Indian government’s order and could no longer offer its service. Opening TikTok website in India prompts a similar message. Tiktok silenced. pic.twitter.com/w4DOIJocfe — Kawaljit Singh Bedi (@kawaljit) June 30, 2020 Ok, TikTok seems to have suspended the functioning of their app. Interesting. pic.twitter.com/ddKpqAv8gT — Prateek Waghre (@prateekwaghre) June 30, 2020 Earlier on Tuesday, TikTok app became unavailable for download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store in India. Two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that ByteDance, the developer of TikTok, had voluntarily pulled the app from the app stores. The vast majority of other apps including Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News as well as e-commerce service Club Factory that India blocked on Monday evening remain available for download on the marquee app stores, suggesting that Google and Apple are yet to comply with New Delhi’s direction. TikTok, which has amassed over 200 million users in India, identifies Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest overseas market. Nikhil Gandhi, who oversees TikTok’s operations in India, said the firm was “in the process” of complying with India’s order and was looking forward to engage with lawmakers in the nation to assuage their concerns. TikTok app has been installed about 2 billion times globally, according to mobile insights firm Sensor Tower. India accounted for 611 million of those downloads, the firm said. In the quarter that would end Tuesday, the 59 apps that India has ordered to ban were installed about 330 million times, the firm said. These apps had a combined monthly active user base of 505 million last month, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. This is the first time that India, the world’s second largest internet market with nearly half of its 1.3 billion population online, has ordered to ban so many foreign apps. New Delhi said nation’s Computer Emergency Response Team had received many “representations from citizens regarding security of data and breach of privacy impacting upon public order issues. […] The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India.” The surprising announcement created confusion as to how the Indian government was planning to go about “blocking” these services in India. Things are becoming clearer now. TikTok, which was blocked in India for a week last year but was accessible to users who had already installed the app on their smartphones, said last year in a court filing that it was losing more than $500,000 a day. Reuters reported on Tuesday that ByteDance had planned to invest $1 billion in India to expand the reach of TikTok, a plan that now appears derailed. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that “Indian government has a responsibility to uphold the legal rights of international investors including those from China.”

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In China and the U.S., there’s much debate about when and how humans will achieve fully autonomous robotaxis at scale — cars that chauffeur passengers under complex road conditions without safety drivers behind the wheel. Many pieces are needed to make this happen: mammoth amounts of test data, advanced algorithms, strong operational teams, big checks from investors, local policy support, to name a handful. Until that day arrives, the bold claims from players in the field seem mostly out of reach. One recent pledge came from Momenta, one of Asia’s most valuable artificial intelligence startups and the country’s first autonomous driving company to reach the $1 billion unicorn valuation back in 2018. The four-year-old startup, which specializes in software solutions for autonomous vehicles (AVs), told TechCrunch recently that its entire robotaxi fleet will operate without safety drivers in 2024, while some of its vehicles will already be driverless by 2022. Competition in AVs is intense. Alphabet’s Waymo told customers last October that its completely driverless cars “are on the way.” Tesla planned to launch a robotaxi network in 2020. In China, Toyota-backed Pony.ai now offers autonomous ride-hailing service with safety drivers in two cities. SoftBank-backed ride-hailing leader Didi just began testing a robotaxi service in Shanghai. An expensive pursuit The autonomous cabs we now see around the world are mostly trial programs running in designated areas. Most self-driving companies build their own fleets from the ground up. The business is cash-hemorrhaging and commercialization is still years down the road, so the question is who can make it work before running out of cash. “The expense [of building car fleets] is even unbearable for a multi-billion-dollar company like Baidu, let alone startups like us. But it may be possible for Waymo’s size,” said founder and chief executive Cao Xudong, who appeared in a plain white t-shirt on a Zoom call with us. The 34-year-old founder previously helped launch face recognition giant SenseTime’s research division after a stint at Microsoft’s reputed Asia Research arm, which has trained many of China’s top AI brains and entrepreneurs. Uber’s IPO prospectus revealed its self-driving unit was burning up to $20 million a month. Waymo’s valuation was slashed 40% by Morgan Stanley last year citing concerns of cash burn. Cao claimed that his company can achieve full vehicle automation while keeping costs manageable for a startup like itself. While Momenta couldn’t reveal whether it’s actively fundraising, it said it has a “stable cash flow” that will last for at least three more years. The company had raised over $200 million by 2018. Cao Xudong (far left) posing with municipal officials at an inaugural event for Momenta’s robotaxi program in Suzhou. Source: Momenta Before diving into Momenta’s expenditures, it’s important to note that none of its progress can happen without state support. In its transition from traditional manufacturing to a tech-driven economy, China has made large sums of government-guided funds available for players in strategic industries such as 5G and artificial intelligence, which, of course, includes autonomous driving. More recently, Beijing moved to speed up the development of so-called “new infrastructure” like data centers and 5G networks to offset COVID-19’s economic impact. These are basic facilities necessary for AVs, said Cao, and the policy push will certainly give China’s autonomous driving sector a strong boost. The government is also clearing regulatory hurdles for promising AV operators. Just this month, Momenta secured the first license to recruit passengers for its robotaxis running on chosen public roads in Suzhou, an affluent and historic city bordering Shanghai that houses its sprawling 4,000-square-meter headquarters. A sustainable path to automation Unlike many peers in its field, Momenta depends on partners to deploy technology and reap data rather than owning its own fleets. While forms of collaboration may vary case by case, its robotaxi service will largely be a joint effort with automakers, which will likely provide vehicles and importantly, driver data; local governments, which can provide infrastructure like 5G networks; and itself, which develops self-driving software. “If you have one million cars, which each costs a few hundred thousand RMB, that accrues to hundreds of billions of RMB. It’s no small money,” Cao contended. Right now Momenta is working to solidify its alliance in Suzhou, where we rode in one of its trial AVs last year. While the startup aims to achieve full automation eventually, it’s not getting rid of all safety personnel. “We will take advantage of 5G infrastructure and have remote safety staff who will each be monitoring, say, ten cars. Thus we will lower the cost of safety managers to one-tenth of its current level,” said Cao. When all of its vehicles go driverless in 2024, the company will have significantly reduced labor costs and reach a positive operating margin per vehicle, the founder forecasted. If things go as planned, it will also roll its light-asset model into other cities outside Suzhou, entering a period of “enormous growth.” “It’s a bit like MacDonald’s franchising model. We will come up with a set of operational standards and replicate them in other cities, where we will collaborate with the local government, taxi services, operational companies and et cetera,” said Cao. Momenta also uses less expensive sensors, what the founder called “mass-produced” ones such as millimeter-wave radars and high-definition cameras as opposed to expensive LiDar sensors. Elon Musk would agree with his choice, having blared that “anyone relying on lidar is doomed.” The startup procures core hardware parts from international and domestic vendors, counting NXP, Nvidia and Texas Instruments as its semiconductor partners. Cao declined to comment on the ramifications of ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions, but it’s not hard to see how sanctions from D.C. could choke the startup’s relationships with its suppliers. Momenta’s autonomous driving test in a commercial district. Source: Momenta The other cost-cutting tactic is automation, which allows the company to minimize the number of engineers. There are nuances in this seemingly simple principle though. “I’ve repeatedly told our R&D team that they are hired not as problem solvers but as architects. Why? Because Level 4 [autonomous driving without human input] involves long-tail scenarios,” the founder explained enthusiastically. “You may be presented with millions of problems. Sure, we can solve 100 problems with 100 people, but we can’t hire one million engineers to answer one million questions… So if you can build an automatic problem-solving system, automation will take care of a lot of the work for us.” Control of data To get ahead in the AV race, contestants need to accumulate a large quantity of data to train up algorithms. Knowing it doesn’t enjoy the financial prowess to deploy thousands of robotaxis, Momenta has been selling autonomous driving software to traditional OEM partners and Tier 1 customers, which not only supply it with data but also a steady stream of revenue. Once the partners’ vehicles go out on the market, driving data begins pouring in, and Momenta will input that data into algorithmic training and periodically upgrade the autonomous cars for consumers. This setup — getting reams of data at low costs — sounds ideal in theory, but it has one big red flag: the data, which is the lifeblood of any AI company, belongs to auto companies, not Momenta. Cao didn’t seem concerned, arguing that the partners are incentivized to hand over data because Momenta can offer the advanced technology absent in traditional carmakers. The field of view of Momenta during autonomous driving. Source: Momenta “When we can extract data from customers’ long-tail problems to train our algorithms, their autonomous driving systems will consequently be improved. We are essentially creating value for customers,” Cao said with an air of confidence. Working with outsiders also forces Momenta to juggle competing needs. Its business is no longer just about throwing money at R&D. Having customers means it needs to consider what makes commercial sense for automakers, from the choice of sensors to software solutions. “The auto industry thinks very differently from the internet industry. You can’t ask carmakers to adapt to your way,” reckoned Cao. As such, he’s hired a considerable number of auto industry veterans, including business development managers with years of experience at Mercedes Benz and Toyota. Momenta has been reticent about its list of clients, though Cao hinted to us last year that there weren’t many because partnerships in AVs necessitate close and resource-intensive collaboration. So far, we know Momenta is developing high-definition maps for Toyota’s AVs. The startup also counts Daimler as a major investor, which kicked off its AV strategy in 2017, though it wouldn’t disclose whether the German auto giant is a client. Daimler’s website offers a clue, listing Momenta under its portfolio managed by the “M&A Tech Invest” team, which is responsible for technology and startup acquisitions for the world’s leading premium car brand.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch is set to take place at 3:55 PM EDT (12:55 PM PDT), with a 15-minute window opening at that time, and there is a backup opportunity on Wednesday, July 1 if the launch needs to be pushed back for any time. This rocket is carrying a GPS III Space Vehicle, which is named “Katherine Johnson” after the NASA mathematician who played a fundamental role in Mercury, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. The launch today will add another GPS III satellite to the U.S. Space Force’s existing in-space GPS assets, which include three already on orbit, with another one set to be deployed in 2022. This third-generation GPS satellite is three times more accurate, and eight times more resilient in terms of its ability to resist gaming efforts than prior versions. In addition to its use for military and defense applications, the GPS III satellite will also contribute to civilian GPS-based satellite navigation. This launch will include a landing of the Falcon 9 booster, using SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has had a very busy launch schedule over the past month, including its historic first crewed spacecraft launch on May 30 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. It also subsequently launched two Starlink missions to add to its low Earth orbit broadband constellation, and had another planned for last week, which ended up having to be delayed until after this flight today. The webcast will kick off above around 15 minutes prior to the launch time, so at around 3:40 PM EDT (12:40 PM PDT)

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
In 2019, in the US alone, more than 10,000 startups raised more than $133 billion in venture funding, with a large proportion of that equity investments. Today, a company building a platform to help startups consider alternative routes to financing — specifically less dilutive options that give up less or no equity in the process — is announcing a round of funding of its own to ramp up its activity. Capital, which has built an AI-based platform called the “Capital Machine” that ingests details about your company to provide tips on how to optimise it and — if you make at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue — to provide offers of financing (typically between $5 million and $50 million, at a 5-15% interest rate, and typically within a day of asking for it), has raised a further $9 million, a “Seed 2” that it will use to continue expanding the Capital Machine’s functionality. The funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. It’s being led by AME Cloud Ventures (the investment firm led by Jerry Yang, who once founded Yahoo), with participation also from Future Ventures (Steve Jurvetson’s fund), Greycroft, Wavemaker Partners, Partech, and angels including Howard Morgan (of Rentech and First Round Capital) and Stuart Roden (former Chairman of Lansdowne Partners). Many of these are repeat backers: this second seed round comes about 8 months after Capital launched with its first seed funding of $5 million. When Capital launched last October, it also announced $100 million on its balance sheet to distribute as loans: it hasn’t disclosed how much of that is now dispersed but Blair Silverberg, the CEO who co-founded Capital with Csaba Konkoly and Chris Olivares, said the company has mostly been “heads down building the Capital Machine” in the last 8 months. It also says that its users have aggregate annual sales of $3 billion between them, so there are definitely customers onboarded. Silverberg also hinted that in the coming months, it’s due to announce more news on financing sources as it continues to scale, which sounds like it is gearing up to announce strategic partners, perhaps other funds or banks, who will be adding to that investing pool as well. Before founding Capital, Silverberg worked closely with Steve Jurvetson as an investor at DFJ (which last year rebranded as Threshold Ventures), and in that capacity got a lot of experience with the equity-based investment model. That wasn’t an entirely happy picture, though: Silveberg could see that for every company that got funded there were so many more that couldn’t be considered, either because of sheer volume, or because of investment theses that VCs are using, or some kind of “investment bias” as Silverberg described it. On top of that, even when money was there for the taking, founders were giving up equity to take it, in some cases so much after several years and several rounds of funding that one had to question if that was always the best route to take. And finally, while there have always been alternatives to equity funding, many don’t seem to have the right routes to access them because they are too small. Venture debt has largely been handled by big banks and other institutional firms, and thus has largely been used by the larger startups that these bigger firms consider. His idea was to use the advances of AI, software-as-a-service and the surge of interest (and, I would add, trust) in fintech and running financial services online to build something that could give founders and CFOs of smaller startups an alternative to consider, which took into account the fact that done right it could be a win-win for financiers and those getting funded. “A tech company does not instantly mean a risky company these days,” said Silverberg. “It’s fascinating to us that tech companies have not had the tools to slice and dice their financing financing options. But the cost of capital can be the key advantage for a company.” The aim initially has been to target tech companies, as these are the most typical recipients of equity investments from VCs, but Silverberg said that the picture is bigger than that. “The Capital Machine is very generalised,” he said about the analytics capabilities of the platform, and thus its customer targets. “We can look at merchant shipping fleets or an insurance agency or a SaaS company or a media property. We can look at and understand any business. But we have found that there is the biggest cultural misunderstanding among those that started life with venture backing.” He said that thousands have tapped the Machine for insights, which are free to get (indeed the data is helpful for the Capital Machine regardless as it continues to learn more about businesses each time it gets used). But in practice, the pool of those taking loans is smaller and typically splits 50/50 between those that are taking Capital debt to meet all of their funding requirements, and those that are taking it in combination with other kinds of financing, including equity funding. It is somewhat ironic that Jurvetson — who eschewed making deals for internet and enterprise companies while at DFJ — would now be backing a SaaS company essentially offering a B2B service. “Since the 90s I have avoided most of the categories of traditional investment, such as internet and enterprise software,” he admitted in an interview. “Oh, yet another B2B retailer or exchange. There are just too many clones, so I shifted to nanotechnology and other areas and delegated those to my partners.” But notwithstanding that he knows and seems to really like Silverberg — “We know each other and there is a high degree of trust there,” he said. “It’s a deep business relationship.” — he also through his years of investing also saw the disparities of the model, and decided it was time to back an alternative. “I was trying to put my finger on what it is that so empowering of bringing frictionless capital to companies that don’t show up on my radar screen,” he said. “Currently venture capital dollars flow into a small small amount of companies that are sucking up too much capital, and on the investor side, you are basing the decision too much on an excel spreadsheet. It’s the worst strategy.” The idea of applying a new and clever piece of software to fix that is just a good business idea, he added, which has a lot of potential also to extend to offering a range of other financial services to startups. “The more software-centric [the solution] is, the more the headroom you have. It’s enormous and then it’s just, can they execute?” That may have been the question to ask about startups getting funded in genera, but it’s also the big question for Capital, which is not the only one that has identified the opportunity to sit alongside VCs as an alternative for startup funding. Others that have also raised money to build their own non-dilutive financing platforms include Clearbanc, which recently tweaked its model specifically to help startups struggling in Covid-19 times with their runway; Lighter Capital; Wayflyer aimed at e-commerce companies; and many more.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
Willa, the Sweden and U.S.-based fintech that wants to help freelancers request payment and get paid immediately for a fee, has raised $3 million in funding. The company’s founders are former early members of Spotify’s growth team and also created influencer marketing platform Relatable. Leading the seed round is EQT Ventures. Also participating is ex-Atomico partner Mattias Ljungman’s Moonfire Ventures, Nordic Makers, Michael Hansen and Johan Lorenzen. Willa says the injection of cash will enable it to launch “Willa Pay,” an app that promises to remove the paperwork required when billing corporations for freelance work and comes with a payment process that claims to make it easier to collect payments. One you’ve completed a job, you use the Willa Pay app to enter the details of the work, how much you are supposed to get paid, and who you did the job for. Willa Pay then contacts the corporation and issues the paperwork. If you wish to get paid earlier than a corporation’s standard terms, which is often anything from 30-90 days, for a small fee Willa will pay you directly. The idea is that freelancers gain more predictable income, and can pay their bills on time and protect their credit score. “The payment process between freelancers and corporations is completely broken,” says co-founder and CEO Kristofer Sommestad. “It’s built for the old world, by people of the old world. Both freelancers and corporations are suffering a lot from this. At least half of freelancers experience problems getting paid, while a third of payments are late. The result? Credit scores decline”. Sommestad says Willa Pay solves this problem by “re-engineering” the payment process. “We’re creating it from scratch with the new freelance economy in mind. And we’re starting with freelancers’ biggest problem: getting paid, on time, every time. As a freelancer, using the Willa Pay app is a faster, simpler and better way of requesting payment for your work”. To help with Willa Pay’s launch, Sommestad says the product’s first 10,000 users will be influencers, averaging a 100,000-plus following. “They are brilliant creators, the world’s best product marketeers and suffering as much as anyone from the payment problems,” he tells me. “This is, by the way, a brilliant distribution move from the Spotify growth playbook”. Meanwhile, on the question of competitors, the Willa CEO says financial services are typically built by massive companies like PayPal and Intuit, along with many startups “building shiny tools or launching yet-another challenger bank”. “But none of them are solving the core problem for freelancers… That’s what we do at Willa. We’re focusing on solving the biggest problem, for the people that suffer the most”.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
DeepSpin, a Berlin-based startup that is developing what it describes as a “next-generation, AI-powered MRI imaging machine”, has raised €600,000 in seed funding. Backing the round is APEX Digital Health, with participation from existing investors Entrepreneur First (EF) and SOSV, along with a number of unnamed angel investors. Including grants and earlier investment, it brings the total raised to €1 million pre-launch. DeepSpin is a graduate of EF’s company builder programme, where its two founders — Clemens Tepel, a former McKinsey consultant, and Pedro Freire Silva, a PhD researcher from KIT — decided to partner in September 2019. Freire Silva drew on his research into small-scale, mass-manufacturable MRI systems and pitched the idea to his future co-founder. “From the beginning I found the idea very intriguing and so we directly jumped into attempting to prove its feasibility,” says Tepel. “Within 4 weeks we were able to prove it in simulation, get industry-leading advisors on board and get first LOIs [letter of intent] from interested clinicians”. Yet-to-launch and still in the development phase, DeepSpin aims to build a new type of MRI system at a “fraction of the cost, weight and size” of existing systems. To make this possible, the startup is has developed a new antenna technology combined with AI-controlled operation, which the startup is currently patenting. “The problem we are solving is that MRI, the most advanced medical imaging method, is currently not easily accessible because it is incredibly expensive, requires specialised operators and needs specifically shielded rooms,” explains Tepel. “We are removing all of these constraints based on our proprietary technology, making MRI universally accessible for any patient, anywhere in the world”. Adds Freire Silva: “Instead of combining highly expensive hardware with standard software, as it is done on conventional MRI scanners, we will be able to obtain the same clinical information by applying very sophisticated algorithms on simplified hardware, thereby reducing our system’s cost by orders of magnitude”. Tepel tells me this approach has not been taken before because both key enablers — highly capable AI-algorithms and the specific antenna design – were only available very recently. Having proven DeepSpin’s methods in simulation, the next step and the team’s current focus is to develop a first fully AI-driven prototype. “Based on that, we will develop an initial product version, aimed at pre-clinical applications, before going into medical certification, which then will allow us to sell our product for clinical use across a range of medical domains and to new geographies that can’t afford conventional systems,” says Tepel.

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